Becoming an Atheist

Whenever I talk to people about religion, they are often very surprised to hear that I was a Christian for many years. The question that typically follows next is, “what happened”? Of course, the context of this question changes depending on if it has come from a theist or an atheist. When atheists ask me this, they are usually interested in what process I went through to get from a devout believer to questioning the existence of god, often because they’d been through it as well, or had never been believers and were genuinely curious. When theists ask me this, however, it’s posed in a more accusatory manner. As in, what traumatic event happened in my life to separate me from God?

Unfortunately for the theists, there is no dramatic story of loss or heartache that led me away from god. Instead, there was a journey of knowledge, understanding, and critical thinking, which led me toward reason.

I was what I like to call a “hardcore” Christian for much of my teenaged life. I attended a bible camp for a week every summer, and eventually became a Sunday school teacher, and a counsellor at that camp. Yes, friends. That’s right. At one point, I was responsible for teaching children about God. I was involved in the brainwashing of teenagers at a bible camp. And I can only hope that I didn’t inflict too much damage upon them, and that they were able to get out, too.

My transformation from crazy, arrogant, ignorant, silly Christian to (hopefully) a thoughtful, intelligent, critically-thinking atheist, is actually a rather boring and typical story. It was easy to be a Christian in high school. At my school, at least, we weren’t really challenged to think. We weren’t really appropriately corrected when we were wrong. This is what comes from a small town full of religious teachers. When I was 14, and we had one of our first lessons on evolution, I of course would hear nothing of it. Clearly it was poorly explained and understood, as I think it often is in many educational systems. After class, I approached my Biology teacher, whom attended my church (of course). I asked him, quite arrogantly (and with an unbelievable amount of stupidity), “If we came from monkeys, why don’t monkeys sometimes give birth to humans?”

Please allow me a moment to feel utter shame and embarrassment that these words have, at one point, left my lips. Ok. The most horrifying thing is not that I actually spoke these words (which, admittedly, is bad enough), but that my Biology teacher laughed, and said, “Yes, well, that is a good question…” Well, no. It’s not. It’s an unbelievably stupid and ridiculous question, which anyone with any working knowledge of evolution could easily answer. So, being from a small town, as a teenager, it was very easy to remain rooted in total ignorance.

When I moved on to University, things began to change. I had always been very interested in science, and Biology in particular. I began taking classes that actually taught me what evolution was, and how it worked, among other important things like genetics, cellular biology, developmental biology… This was the beginning. It was not only a stage that taught me how the world really worked, but much more importantly, I was forced to THINK, and explain WHY I thought what I did. It was really this, the development of critical thinking skills, that led to my eventual transition to atheism.

When I began my master’s degree, I had moved from crazy Christian to apathetic agnostic. I no longer believed there was a god as seen in the bible; I’d started to understand that many of the experiences I thought I’d had were likely products of my imagination, and I didn’t give heaven or hell another thought. I decided that there truly was no way of knowing if there was a god, and that there wasn’t much point in discussing it. It wasn’t until a few years later that I started to realize there were many very GOOD reasons to discuss religion.

I’ve spent a lot of time in Kenya doing research, and as a result have met a lot of very interesting people. I admit, even until that point, my experience with the LGBT community was fleeting or non-existent. In Kenya, I met several homosexual men, and started to understand that religion isn’t just a nice thing for those who believe, and harmless for the rest- but that these men, who were happy, entertaining, loving, kind, compassionate, and wonderful people, could actually be put in jail in Kenya for being gay. Not for any real, legitimate reason- but simply because it is a largely religious nation, and homosexuality was thought to be against God’s will. This was the point when I began to wonder at the use, and subsequent harm, of religion.

The past year of my life has really been the focal point in my journey to atheism. When I began to meet like minded people, who didn’t believe in god and actually wanted to talk about it, I realized that I did, too- that there is value in exposing the myths and harms of religion- that voicing these opinions can lead to change, and that even if they don’t lead to change, standing in support of the voiceless is a very worthy cause.

Within the last year, I’ve made the transition from Agnostic, to Agnostic atheist, to VOCAL Agnostic atheist. I have evaluated the evidence for god, and I don’t find it to be sufficient to believe that such a being exists. I do not claim to have knowledge that there is no god- simply that, at this point in time, there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that god does exist. I’d put myself securely at a 6.9 on the Dawkins’ scale- about as certain there is no god as I am there is no Santa Claus, but while realizing I cannot, and do not, possess the knowledge to say so for certain.

I think that this journey of mine is fairly typical. What I’ve come to realize is that even the most insane, radical, outrageous theist can become logical and rational. We all have the potential to think for ourselves, evaluate evidence, and come to appropriate conclusions. I am proof that the worst of the worst can get out and use that wonderful evolution-given brain to not only assess the world in an appropriate way, but hopefully also stand up for injustices and inequalities produced by the very beliefs that once ruled our lives.

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17 Responses to Becoming an Atheist

  1. Cameron Gazzola Black says:

    I really miss you on Twitter.

  2. laura says:

    I’m sure you have valid reasons that I do not doubt, but I sure miss your tweets! Hope all is well in your world….thanks for a well written and very relatable post. šŸ˜‰ ~lauraleebiology

  3. Soutie says:

    Great read! Thanks šŸ™‚ …. and like everyone, I miss ur tweets too!!

  4. Paul Niland says:

    Thanks Mel, an interesting read. My journey is similar, although I didn’t go to Kenya šŸ™‚ Just that I have learned that the fables contained in the bible and the Koran are not “miracles” at all. The laws of physics can’t be suspended, virgins don’t get pregnant, dead means dead, and no way could Noah have found space for all those animals on his bloody barge. I recently asked a friend of mine, a pastor no less, honestly, where Noah would have managed to get a giraffe from, as they are native to Africa only, considering he was in the middle east and there were no planes, trains or automobiles, he thought for a second and said “I don’t know, but at one point the continents were all connected, maybe that was the case then, and they didn’t have a sea to cross.” He really should have just stopped at “I don’t know”…

    We miss you on Twitter, hope you are well.

    • Oh, I totally hear you. Theists have all kinds of answers to the “Noah’s Ark” questions. The one I get most often is “God helped”. Oh, of course. How can I argue with that logic…. haha.

  5. jjc says:

    A story shockingly similar to my own. Thank you for sharing it.

    Cheers Mel (from a fellow agnostic atheist and Canadian)

  6. We’re ready when you are for your return to Twitter.

    While nobody can say for sure that gods do not exist I consider the fable of the Christian god to be as believable as Godzilla, or my favorite, the One-Eyed, One-Horned, Flying Purple People Eater. So on the Dawkins scale, I’m a 6.9999ā€¦āˆž but being a good engineer, I round it to 7.

    • YES! That is an excellent point that I didn’t touch on but probably should have mentioned. There is so much evidence AGAINST the events of the bible, and so many contradictions in the “unchanging qualities” of the God of the bible that I’m quite certain that god does not exist. Same with really any of the “defined” gods. The only reason I remain at a 6.9 is to allow for the possibility, no matter how remote, of a deistic god who doesn’t give two fucks about our existence šŸ™‚

  7. roz655 says:

    I too am a Canadian woman with a similar story. One difference (and maybe you just did not mention it) is that I was a young Christian single mother that took this journey. Strangely, I never talked a lot about religion to my daughter when she was growing up, but she did attend Sunday school sporadically until age 6. She never knew of my change from Christian to agnostic/atheist until recently. I felt that she could find her own way and now as an adult, I talk to her about my atheism. She is also a non-believer and thanks me for not forcing religion on her as a child. It is one of the things I am most proud of in my life.
    Unfortunately, I don’t feel I can announce my atheism as a nurse as it is not very accepted in this circle. I still feel very closeted and only talk about my lack of belief with a few non-nurse atheist friends. Twitter has also been a great support for me. I envy your ability to talk openly about your atheism.

    • Paul Niland says:

      Roz, I think you will find that there are a great many people who feel the same. The fact of the matter is this is an age of global debate, those without the facts to back up their arguments are losing. It’s as simple as that. And people who hold some illogical beliefs as true are getting angry because these beliefs are being challenged and they don’t have any good answers. Good luck to you.

  8. surpriseseedings says:

    Our journey was different. We were hardcore, Marxist-Leninist, South American guerilla, church-burning type atheists. We even used the Bible to roll joints. Get this: We hate oppression and deception with every fiber in our being. Oppression is always wrong — no matter who the target is. Be it gays, farmers, writers or the disabled. We courted death at many turns and lost many to death. So we decided to search for the answers to death and immortality.

    We are now Christians.

    And to our horror, we found that the Christendom that you guys know and came out of, is the greatest system of deception and oppression that this world has ever seen. This Christendom is a counterfeit system that the apostles and Jesus consistently warned would appear. No excuses. It began when the Imperial Roman system hijacked the young church.

    But most of all they switched the keys of immortality.

    We found the keys to our graves. Our journey is over! Yes, you guys did the right thing leaving the religious imperial corporate system. But you stopped short. Life is not a gift. It is an opportunity.

    And we all got one shot, dudes

    If you are interested in unlocking the mystery of life, Creation, Science, immortality, deception, etc, it is here.

    A bunch of Fools And Rejects.

  9. Your text gives me hope. I am worried for my daughter. She is seven and she lives is a Jesus freak world, accentuated when her mother and I split. Neverhtless I always teach her, when she is with me, to think. Always ask her about everything she tells me:” and what do you think?”. I just want her to be a clear minded-myth free person, who deals with life problems (yours and the other humans around you, like poverty, sadness, sickness, loneliness and so on). I want her to deal with these issues (and others) as a grown up, growing wstronger from within everyday, and not falling in the easy dream of this adult Santa Claus in heaven called jesus. Thanks for the hope.

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